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6.57 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I am grateful to have the opportunity to take part in the important debate on the situation in Darfur, which might be described as Africa’s holocaust. Sudan has experienced Africa’s longest-running civil war. The notion of liberal interventionism—that powerful western countries have a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, sometimes stretching the bounds of international law to the limit—has been tainted by the war in Iraq. However, if ever a situation cried out for liberal interventionism, it is that in Darfur.

The humanitarian crisis has touched the conscience of people all over the world. I pay tribute to the work of not only aid agencies, but people in the faith communities, who have kept the issue at the forefront of debate. Indeed, I believe that public opinion has impelled politicians rather than the other way round. That is to the credit of those who are active in aid agencies and faith groups, and ordinary people who have, over the years, written, campaigned and tried to keep the issue where it should be.

During the debate, we have heard about the 4 million displaced people, the hundreds of thousands of people killed, the terrible incidence of rape and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. One of the intrinsic aspects of the dispute has also been mentioned: it is a war between the Arabs of the north and the Africans of the interior. That is not much discussed. It has been mentioned again and again in the debate that the Sudanese Government seem to think that they can behave with impunity. In the face of all the evidence, all the reports and all the pressure, they are giving tacit support to militia who, in common parlance, are indeed engaged in genocide. The fact that the Sudanese Government believe that they can behave with impunity actually points—despite the best efforts of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and for International Development—to the ineffectualness of international action so far.

Much has been spoken about the need for sanctions, particularly action against businesses supporting and making money out of the region. I support everything that has been said about the role of sanctions, but we need to bear in mind, as we look forward, that sanctions can play only a short to medium-term role. In the end, as the economist Jeffrey Sachs said, Sudan’s underlying problem as a country is that it is desperately impoverished with a terrible lack of water and food. Underlying the ethnic nature of some of the conflict is a desperate struggle for scarce resources. When the politicians are finally able to broker some sort of peace settlement, what will be needed in Sudan is not a sigh of relief and turning to the next international crisis, but a genuine economic restructuring. That would be the appropriate aim from the west.

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I want to say a few words about the point raised by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about the framework of international law, especially when it comes to humanitarian interventions. I served on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee during the 1997 Parliament. It conducted an inquiry into international law in relation to humanitarian interventions in the particular context of Kosovo. We had hearing after hearing and dealt with vast piles of papers. Having dutifully waded through them and dutifully listened to the international lawyers, I realised that international law on humanitarian interventionism is really what the last lawyer told us it was. It is work in progress. If we believe, as I do, that there are times and places where liberal interventionism is really called for, we need to seek in the longer term a more robust legal framework.

I did not vote in favour of the war in Iraq, which for me was outside the framework of international law. I believe that we cannot allow that sort of American-led intervention, but that is not to say that there is never a case for liberal intervention. Actually, the framework of international law that applies at this point does not allow for it. While dealing with the immediate and pressing problems in Darfur and elsewhere, international institutions need to work on a framework, on a code, and on getting resources for those that would make it possible to have genuine humanitarian interventions that can go forward with the support of the whole international community and cannot be blocked by individual members of the Security Council, which may well have their own narrow selfish interests rather than relieving genuine suffering at heart.

I believe that the role of the African Union force is vital. The way forward in this sort of international crisis is not direct western military intervention, but greater reliance on properly funded and supported regional forces. I hope that the EU, Britain and, of course, the UN will do all they can to support and allow the African Union force to continue its work. Ideally, as has been said, it should be a hybrid force of the African Union and the European Union. However, in this sort of crisis we should look first and foremost to a regional force rather than to the UN, although such a regional force should have UN backing. The African Union has done some good work in Sudan in practice, but it is important to support the work of the African Union force in principle—financially and in many other ways. I very much support what has been said about the need to take action against the different business and financial interests that are benefiting from their investments in the region.

I congratulate my right hon. Friends on allowing us to debate this issue in Government time. There were divisions among all the parties on the issue of Iraq. If the notion of liberal and humanitarian interventionism is to be rehabilitated—sadly, in the cruel, violent and economically unstable world in which we live, it must be—the surest way of doing so is for the international community to be seen to act effectively and decisively—politically socially and, if necessary, militarily—to end the tragedy in Sudan.

7.6 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the thoughtful and penetrating speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke
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Newington (Ms Abbott). In opening my remarks on this critical subject, I would also like very warmly and enthusiastically to echo the tribute rightly paid by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) to the Aegis Trust, an organisation that has consistently and brilliantly championed the interests of the long-suffering and oppressed people of Darfur.

By any yardstick, somewhat in excess of 300,000 people have died in the region. It is estimated that there are something in the order of 2.4 million people internally displaced, including no fewer than 450,000 displaced since the signing of the abortive Darfur peace agreement in May 2006. We know that there are also about 230,000 refugees who have now fled over the border to Chad. It has been regularly stated, but let me underline the fact, that in the order of 400,000 people, in addition to the numbers of previous refugees, have become refugees over the past year alone.

We know that 4 million people are dependent on food aid, so it is a desperate and harrowing situation that we encounter. Moreover, we are aware that this is something that is happening right across the region. Whether it be Um Rai in the north, Amar Jadeed in the south or Sirba in the west, no area is unaffected for any length of time. The position is one of uniform misery and persistent and chronic insecurity.

I think that we know that the overwhelming share of responsibility for the lamentable state of affairs that obtains today lies with the Government of Sudan. Aerial bombing, mass shooting, widespread rape, the use of child soldiers, persistent hijacking, the destruction of crops, the theft of livestock, the calculated poisoning of water supplies and the chaining together and burning of people alive: those are all part of the story of savagery that has shamed the world. That poses the question of what sort of response is evoked from this House, from our Government and from the international community.

There are complexities in the subject, but it seems to me that we know from the historical record that there is one language alone that the Government of Sudan understand—and that is the language of pressure, pressure and more pressure. Remorseless and unrelenting pressure is required if we are to persuade that Government to stop slaughtering their own people and to start respecting their rights. Reference has been made to sanctions, which can take a number of different forms. It seems to me that there are two that are so blindingly obvious as candidates that only an extraordinarily clever and sophisticated person could fail to observe and recognise them.

The first sanction relates to the oil sector—petroleum has already been mentioned. We know the facts. Between 1999 and 2005, the Government of Sudan’s oil revenues increased from $61.1 million to $2,297 million—virtually fortyfold. During a similar period, from 1999 to 2004, the increase in military expenditure by the Sudan Government was absolutely enormous, from $242 million to about $587 million. The link is manifest and palpable: those huge revenues enabled that Government massively to ratchet up their expenditure on weapons of repression, oppression and destruction. Various figures have been given for the proportion of total revenue in Sudan at governmental level that is accounted for by oil—someone quoted a figure of between 60 and 80 per cent., and I
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customarily encounter a figure of 50 per cent.—but whatever the figure, we need to be clear about the fact that growth in Sudan is driven by oil.

I believe that we have reached a point at which we must seek to build support in the international community for the establishment and operation of an oil trust fund. The funds that pay for the oil would be placed in an escrow account, and the Government of Sudan would not be allowed to get their hands on them pending a resolution of the conflict. It would be made clear that they must be used for the provision of essential and basic health and education services for the population and to facilitate necessary development projects, and that moneys must be put aside in a compensation fund to deliver reparations at the required time for the people of Darfur.

That suggestion has been made by the Aegis Trust, and it is supported by the judge Richard Goldstone, an immensely experienced and wise figure in the international community who has the advantage of having sat on the Volcker committee. After studying some of the shortcomings of the earlier attempt relating to the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, and heeding lessons from it, he remains firmly of the view that such a scheme, appropriately monitored and enforced, could bear real fruit in putting pressure on the Government of Sudan.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but most of Sudan’s oil revenues come from China, which has made it clear that it will refuse to comply with any sanctions.

John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is right, in that thus far the Government of China have not been prepared to play ball. My view is that we must simply repeat and intensify our efforts and try to ensure that they are as concerted as possible. If China wants to play a responsible role in the world, it must accept that it is incumbent on it so to behave in the international community as to demonstrate a greater respect for the human rights of other people, and also an interest in the political and diplomatic priorities of the countries with which it wants both to do business in commercial terms and to establish decent political relations. As the hon. Gentleman says, we have not got there yet, but we must continue to try.

Not only do I favour financial sanctions against individuals, financial sanctions against the Government of Sudan and financial sanctions in the form of a concerted effort to increase divestment from the country, I feel that the issue should now take centre stage and I hope that the Secretary of State will include it in discussions at multilateral level with a view to securing the level of support that will be needed.

The second obvious candidate for enhanced and strengthened sanctions is, of course, the arms industry. Reference has been made to both China and Russia. In 2005 alone, China sold some $83 million-worth of arms to Sudan, and Russia sent somewhat in excess of $34 million-worth. The history is quite interesting. When an arms embargo for Sudan was first proposed, it was decided—chronically and disgracefully—that it should apply only to rebel groups and opposition forces. Subsequently, thanks not least to the good offices of the British Government and others, its
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application was extended to the Government of Sudan. The present position, however, is that although the Government of Sudan are not supposed to use arms in Darfur, they are still entitled to buy arms for other purposes.

It requires a degree of naivety to suppose that the Government of Sudan, a bunch of mendacious thugs if ever there was one, will not take the opportunity to circumvent the moral purpose of international action and decide to use those forces, that equipment and those aeroplanes for their own purposes of continuing war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and, yes, genocide in Darfur. That is precisely what they are doing now, and that is why we need to say that there should be a complete embargo on the sale of arms to Sudan, period—an embargo that can be lifted when, and only when, Sudan ceases to oppress, abuse and slaughter its own citizens.

Those sanctions appear to me to be the centrepiece of an effective strategy, but we need to do other things as well, and we need to lose not a moment in going about the process of doing them. In a characteristically powerful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) spoke of the importance and urgency of the imposition and enforcement of a no-fly zone. I entirely agree, but I think that we should remind ourselves, and inform those attending to the debate, that the issue goes back some time. If memory serves me, it was as long ago as March 2005 that United Nations Security Council resolution 1591 was passed, exhorting, nay instructing, the Government of Sudan to cease all offensive military flights in the region. That has not happened. We need to establish the no-fly zone, give effect to it and monitor compliance with it. I am not a lawyer—I say that with some pride—but if a chapter VII provision is required under the United Nations procedures, so be it.

In addition, we must secure the troop deployment that is necessary. We have talked in passing about United Nations Security Council resolution 1706. I remind Members that that resolution was passed in August last year. Now, nine months later, there is still a piddlingly inadequate, feeble, lamentable, risible force level in a region the size of France. We need 20,000 troops there, and we need them now. General Romeo Dallaire—who has considerable experience of these matters, having been lumbered with the task of trying to secure peace in Rwanda with hopelessly inadequate resources for the purpose—has speculated that 44,000 would be more appropriate, and the head of AMIS, the African Union mission in Sudan, suggested at one time that 60,000 might be required. However, we certainly know that we need the 20,000, that we need them now, that they are not there and that they should be. Action must be taken and pressure must continue, at the highest levels of Government and on a multilateral basis, to achieve that objective.

There is another issue that no one has mentioned so far, but which is relevant to our sending a consistent message and exerting a credible pressure on the Government of Sudan. I refer to this Government’s attitude to asylum seekers coming here from Darfur. On 4 April, the Government were defeated—the Home Office lost—in the Court of Appeal when it was
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decided that it would be unduly harsh to send a subsistence farmer back to live in virtual refugee conditions in or near Khartoum. The court did not accept that overall it would be unduly harsh to send people back to Khartoum—it did not have the necessary evidence on which to reach that conclusion—but the Government are appealing against even that limited and justified finding and, as they decided on 4 May, they are taking it to the House of Lords.

We have since received additional evidence from the Aegis Trust about Sadiq Adam Osman, who was returned to Sudan as a rejected asylum seeker in February 2007. The trust has interviewed him and has seen the scars inflicted on him by the savage beatings that he has sustained. It reported its evidence in March this year, and it appeared in The Guardian on 29 March. It also featured in a powerful programme on Channel 4 on, I think, the same day. I have seen the clips—people do not beat themselves up gratuitously and viciously in that way. Yet in relation to the asylum process, Darfurians are considered appropriate for the fast-track procedure.

The Sudanese embassy is complicit in the attempt to return those frightened, terrified and vulnerable people. The interviews are conducted on the basis of Arabic translation, which is objectionable to the Darfurians, first, because very often they do not feel able fully and adequately to conduct the interview on that basis, and secondly, because they believe that Arabic is the language of the oppressor. After their experience at the hands of Bashir’s regime, can anyone blame them?

Jeremy Corbyn: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Foreign Office or British missions abroad do not as a matter of routine investigate the situations of people who have been returned against their wishes to a place from which they had come to seek asylum here? There are no official records taken and no substantial evidence is kept by the Foreign Office. Does he agree that it ought to be? If we are sending people back to a place of danger, we should at least know what we are responsible for.

John Bercow: I entirely agree. There is no systematic process of studying whether the individuals returned are safe. We have made international commitments on non-refoulement. We have an obligation to ensure that people who we send back are not sent back to the likely prospect of imprisonment, torture, death or even, dare I say it, a grisly combination of all three. Yet that is what is happening at the moment. The country guidance notes could be changed very simply by the Foreign Office to make it clear that it is dangerous.

The Home Office is so ignorant on the matter that it apparently does not realise that a Darfurian bearing his tribal scars returned to Khartoum, which is literally crawling with state agents, is immediately vulnerable to arrest, imprisonment and all the horrific consequences that are likely to flow. Is it not both perverse and rather sinister that people appealing against their refused asylum application or making a fresh application receive requests to go to interview from the enforcement and removals section of the Home Office? That is unacceptable.

This is an appalling state of affairs. Too many people have suffered too much for too long with too little done
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about it. The dead, the dying and the destitute are increasing exponentially by the day while Governments internationally dither. I warmly endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said—he was a brilliant Chairman of the International Development Committee and he was right. We have to decide whether the responsibility to protect is to be a serious attempt to avert genocide or simply a rather futile exercise in vacuous moral posturing. I believe that it should be the former, not the latter.

We in the international community as a whole have let people down. I have great respect for the Secretary of State for International Development, as he knows. The problem is not mainly in that Department; it is with foreign policy. We need the requirement of will, the assertion of principle, the determination to act and the insistence on saying to people who have been dishonest, have let us down and behaved consistently badly, “Up with this we will not put.”

7.23 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): This issue deserves the support of the whole House and we have heard speeches today that have made it quite clear that this House and the people whom we represent will not tolerate what is happening in Darfur and are deeply concerned about it.

The estimates of the death toll have varied from 200,000 to 400,000. As we have heard today, it has been difficult to make estimates or get exact figures on the death toll, not least because many of the aid agencies have found it difficult to give honest reports. To a certain extent, they depend on having the good will of the Government to be able to continue to operate in the area where they are giving out aid.

As we have heard today, agencies have been prepared to speak out. One in Northern Ireland has raised the profile of the issue among regular churchgoers—the Africa Inland Mission. It has circulated pictures of what has happened in Darfur around churches in Northern Ireland and tried to raise the profile of what has happened to the unfortunate people of that area. The mission has made it clear—despite perhaps putting its personnel in great danger—that what is happening there is genocide and that the insecurity that has been orchestrated by Khartoum impedes its ability to deliver aid and that of other agencies. On top of that, as was pointed out graphically by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), we have had a huge displacement of people.

I know that the Foreign Secretary has to be careful as she is involved in delicate negotiations but despite all the evidence, the UN and those who are responsible in Government have not been prepared to come out and say openly that what we are seeing in Darfur is genocide. The hon. Member for Buckingham made it clear that the one thing that we need at this time is to put pressure on the Government in Sudan—not to pussyfoot around them, placate them or bring them along. We should make it clear that internationally they are regarded as parasites and that what they are doing is wrong and will be highlighted. There is a need for frank talking on the issue.

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